41 - The Next Level

I was a little worried I would end up eating some of my words after the initial gush about Ultima Underworld, but after exploring the first floor of the Stygian Abyss my hopes are high that this will not be necessary. I will divide the post into two sections: Adventuring and Mechanics to separate the story of my travels with discussion about the game itself. These adventures have revealed some things I really like about the game and others that don't sit as well with me. However, none of these are serious problems and tend to pop up in most old games.

The Adventure

When I last posted, I was flying very high while exploring Level 1 of the dungeon and had stopped after mapping about 30% of its layout. I continued the project by swimming up every branch of the river that runs through the dungeon and investigating any shores I was able to wade onto. What I did NOT count on is this little swim delivering me directly into the backyard of the Grey Goblins! When I emerged from the source of the river at the far north of the map, drenched in slimy water, I opened the first door I encountered and found a room full of the things. Remembering the advice of the human I found I was immediately on guard, but they did not attack me. In fact, the goblins seemed to be relatively intelligent.

After chatting to a few of the grunts wandering around, I actually had a chat with the leader of the Grey Goblins who was quite pleasant and also a bit under his wife's thumb. I did not find much equipment, but I was very interested in the implications of my discovery. In many old games, including famous ones like Baldur's Gate, intel you receive on potential enemies is mostly correct save for plot twists that may occur. I was not expecting to get a biased or even racist opinion that held no real consequences besides that of bringing believability to the world. The goblins had captured Bragit and held him, but they didn't attack me. Had he done something to them? Was he not what he seemed? Was there a misunderstanding? It also allowed role playing options such as trying to pry information out of the leader, lying about having talked to the Green Goblins, and other interesting choices. I kept honest and said I had not spoken to the other groups and was given a little background on the factions.

[Just like trying to get my buddy on the horn.]

After talking to the Grey Goblins, I decided to visit the Green variety that were just as amiable. I discussed the history of the groups with their leader and learned that both the humans and goblins were commissioned to colonize the abyss. Unfortunately, the leader of the expedition was killed leaving each faction to fall apart without guidance causing the current situation. I found the grave of this leader, Korianous, and several nearby items including a strange resilient sphere. I'm sure these will come into play later. I was also able to convince their chef to reveal his special recipe for "Rot Worm Stew". Yum.

Getting to Korianous’s grave was easy and involved the jumping puzzle PetrusOctavianus mentioned in the last post. The puzzle consists of a room with eight pillars, four of which are each a little higher than the last to form stepping stones going up. The other four are flush with the ground and have different textures: dirt, stone, or marble. Using levers in a nearby room, these can be raised higher or lower to form the lower set of "stairs" allowing the player to jump up to the highest. By simply setting each lever one setting higher than the last this is easily accomplished. The jumps are also aided by the use of SHIFT+J which does a standing long jump instead of having to run and jump. Sometimes this can result in a physics bug and the player bouncing off of walls and into pits. The standing long jump has a set distance and is far more stable. Retrieving the rewards listed above was also a huge help. (Especially the giant axe I got!)

[A bit of world building history to be missed if you don't talk to the goblins.]

After talking to all of the factions, including the humans, I mapped out the rest of the level as thoroughly as I could. The only event of note was a harrowing fight against a giant poisonous spider the Gray Goblins had been complaining about. After defeating it (with lots of healing spells) I picked up some of the strong thread that makes up its web. I will probably try to attach one to a pole I have to make a fishing pole, but who knows what else it may be useful for?

I also found the door to the shrine on the first level. Much like Ultima 4, the abyss contains shrines corresponding to each virtue that can be prayed to in order to increase character stats. Unfortunately, the door is locked and I cannot find a key that works anywhere. Should I come back to this later or have I missed something major? Anyway, having done all I can, I took one of the dark stairways down to Level 2 to face even nastier dangers that surely await me!

[(Almost) Complete map of Level 1. Conspicuously missing the ankh shaped shrine, though.]

The Mechanics

I discussed the mechanics of movement and manipulating items a little in the last post, but I did not mention anything about the use of the items. I have not really had any problems using items in the world. It is easy to click on food to eat it or the bedroll to sleep. Keys are selected and then used on doors in the environment to unlock them just like in a point and click adventure. One mechanic that I AM having trouble with is item degradation.

As the player uses weapons in combat or gets hit by enemies, both weapons and armor gradually degrade. If they are completely destroyed, they disappear from the game and a replacement must be found. I think this is a great mechanic that stresses the importance of items and their scarcity in the dungeon, but it could have been better balanced. Almost every swing of my weapon causes the message "Weapon damaged" to appear in the feedback window. In one battle with two goblins I went through one dagger and two cudgels. Since this battle, my backpack looks more like a kitchen drawer with all the knives and other stuff in it just in case my weapons give out. It has not caused any serious problems for me yet, but I can imagine it being a huge problem as situations get more dangerous. I will have to be more careful to avoid combat unless a more permanent solution is available. It may be time to dip into some offensive spells...

I will discuss more mechanics that interest me as they show up, but you are more than welcome to bring up any other topics you would like to discuss in the comments section. I am very impressed with the design of the game, so far, and consider these minor complaints to be nothing close to serious problems for me.

What's next?

Moving down to Level 2, I have planted my silver seed and am ready to start exploring. The level looks more like a mineshaft with wood paneled walls. I hope it is not too mazelike, but the inclusion of an automap makes this a mild annoyance. Stay tuned.

I have not had much time to play my other games, but I have started playing Spec Ops: The Line after learning that it is more than just a modern warfare shooter. I look forward to seeing what happens as I understand it is a commentary about video game violence and goes beyond what most games attempt to do to make a statement. Whether it succeeds or not still makes it admirable. I just hope that game designers don't get too mired down in irony and satire as this can lead to even bigger problems.

Follow me on Twitter (@backlogkiller) and feel free to leave any comments or suggestions you have. I am also thinking about getting some software to record moments of game play, but I am not sure where to start. If any of you have any experience with this, feel free to leave a message as well.

--Backlog Killer